The end may be near for Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg at Glasgow Warriors but he is determined to ensure the final curtain is a glorious one by helping the club lift the Guinness Pro14 title at Celtic Park next month.
Nine years ago, brimming with obvious talent but homesick, the teenager from Hawick found his initial time in Scotland’s biggest city almost too much to bear but has since gone on to become one of the country’s brightest sporting stars.
A remarkable 67 Scotland caps have been earned by the age of 26, he has been on two Lions tours, was part of the Warriors’ historic Pro12 title in 2015 and been crowned Six Nations player of the tournament in both 2016 and 2017.
It may not be a case of regrets too few to mention, there have been injury setbacks, not quite making the big breakthrough in Europe and some occasions in his early career when things said in the media backfired on him. But the man who will join Exeter Chiefs after the World Cup next season, is grateful that one mistake was put right and didn’t become a serious, career-altering source of regret.
Five years ago a 21-year-old Hogg had already been on the Lions tour to Australia and raced to 20 caps and admits things went to his head a bit towards the end of that 2013-14 season. There was an early red card for a reckless high tackle on Dan Biggar as Scotland were humiliated 51-3 by Wales in Cardiff and then Hogg started manoeuvring for a move away from Glasgow to Ulster.
A furious then Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend banished him from the squad for the Pro12 semi-finals and final at the end of that season and, while the situation was resolved, Hogg has revealed that a chat with the national boss last year brought home to him how close to the wind he had sailed.
“It wasn’t until last summer when Gregor made me Scotland captain [for the Test against United States in Houston] that we sat down and chatted and I heard his side of the story for the first time,” recalled Hogg.
“He said he didn’t think we were going to be able to have any kind of relationship. That was scary to hear because, Gregor being such a good coach coming through, the Scotland job was always going to be inevitable at some point and I’m glad I didn’t burn my bridges. If I had, would I be playing for Scotland now? Probably not.
“There was a stage in 2014 when I thought I was better than I actually was and that came back to bite me in the bum. This club means a hell of a lot to me. I tried, stupidly, five years ago to leave and I think that was the making of the man.
“Ever since that time I got my love back for Glasgow.”
It was the golden Commonwealth Games summer of 2014, when Hogg was part of the Scotland Sevens that played over two sold-out days at Ibrox Stadium that proved the turning point.
“That brought the love of the game and a love for Glasgow back to me and I thought ‘why the hell am I leaving?’” he said. “I apologised for everything and the next season went on to win the Pro12.
“There are always mistakes and challenges that come along in life but looking back that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me because it gave me the kick up the backside that I needed, brought me back down to earth and I think I’ve played some good rugby since then.”
That is certainly an understatement but, speaking at a Land Rover event in Glasgow, Hogg revealed that what has become a stellar professional career almost ended before it had even started.
The full-back is fully focused on Saturday evening’s crunch clash with Edinburgh, where a win would secure a home semi-final and have Glasgow one game away from the dream Celtic Park finale, but with new pastures hoving into view, reflected on a period that constitutes more than a third of his life.
“I was just two weeks into my Glasgow career just turning 18 and I wanted to give it up, go home and start again. But I’m glad I didn’t,” he recalled.
“I was just over 100 miles from home but it felt more like a million miles and I just thought ‘this isn’t for me’. My parents and the academy manager Iain Monaghan were saying to me ‘just give it another couple of weeks and see’. I did and haven’t looked back.”
Unfinished business there may be six weeks from his last SRU pay cheque, but Hogg is looking forward to new challenges and feels he has made the right decision in terms of his next move. His Scotland and former Glasgow team-mate, Finn Russell, has thrived at Racing 92 in Paris but Hogg is happy with his choice of Devonshire cream tea over a croque monsieur.
“Absolutely. Everybody talks about me leaving in terms of financial reasons. That bugs me,” he said. “If I was leaving for money I’d be going to France but I’ve no notion to go there.
“I don’t think the level of rugby is as good or consistent. Some teams are absolutely tremendous, others are nowhere near being good enough. I’m moving to a club that play an exciting brand of rugby, with good players, coaches and incredible fans. They want to achieve something special and I want to be a part of it. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I was able to pick the club I wanted and they wanted me.
“I want my wife to be happy and the kids to be in an environment they’ll love,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to be going to an away game every second week and the Missus being left with people who don’t speak English. It would be brilliant to speak French one day but the more and more I looked at France I decided it wasn’t for me. But also it was the more and more I watched Exeter play that excited me.”
For now, Hogg’s excitement is purely trained on an another derby tussle with Edinburgh at Scotstoun which, despite the disappointments it has held for Glasgow in recent years including back-to-back defeats in December, still gets his blood pumping.
Just not with the same rush to the brain which, six years ago, led to him proclaiming “everybody hates Edinburgh” in the build-up to an 1872 Cup clash.
“I learned from that years ago,” he said with a smile. “I said something in the press that backfired as I then played like an absolute donkey. It’s part and parcel of derbies but for me I’m older and wiser now, and just concentrating on my job.
“The very first 1872 Cup game I played was at Murrayfield I managed to make a break, I think I handed off Nick de Luca, beat David Denton and was one-on-one with Chris Paterson.
“All I really had to do was a chip and chase and use the dead ball area but I didn’t and Mossy [Paterson] absolutely banged me into into touch. Then later in the game I did the same to him and because the guy is such a legend and was a hero of mine I picked him up as soon as I could and actually apologised for tackling him!”
l Land Rover is the Official Vehicle Partner of Glasgow Warriors. Follow @LandRoverRugby for more info